Sustainability drives Winter Park clothing store
May 25, 2017
Sustainability is what makes Lavender Elephant unique. The relatively new retail clothing business in Winter Park held a grand opening Wednesday, though it has been in operation for well over a year.
Owner Abbey Arabie cut the ceremonial ribbon in front of members of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, local business owners and a myriad of friends and family.
Arabie said her world travels to Africa, China, Vietnam and eventually Winter Park inspired her to make her clothing using repurposed materials after seeing the waste and inefficiency of the industry.
Lavender Elephant, located in the Park Place Shopping Center off Highway 40, specializes in creating sustainable clothing from repurposed materials while also offering services such as clothing and gear repair and wedding planning services.
“I went on a visit to China and I saw the development of the industry, and what really set me off was seeing all of the trash in Africa. And the gift of Winter Park, as I say, is I didn’t know I was going to be as passionate about sustainability until I was surrounded by nature.”
— Abbey Arabie
Despite the grand opening, Lavender Elephant has been open for business for well over a year, but pushed back the grand opening until the store had become a fixture in the area, according to Arabie.
"I wanted to make sure I could make it, I wanted to make sure I could make it through the off-seasons," said Arabie. " I didn't really want a grand opening until I felt grand about it."
Arabie is a fashion natural. She graduated from Louisiana State University with coursework in textile science and apparel manufacturing, but her homegrown education began much earlier.
Arabie has been sewing her own clothes since she was 12 years old, cutting apart the clothes her mother would give her and creating new designs with the materials. Lavender Elephant started in her apartment at Meadow Ridge, with only a curtain separating her bed and workspace. But she soon began branding herself and expanding the operation.
She credits the late John Catt with recognizing her talent and giving her the opportunity to create custom clothing for blues performers coming into the area. From there, Arabie decided to make a career out of it.
"I went on a visit to China and I saw the development of the industry, and what really set me off was seeing all of the trash in Africa," she said. "And the gift of Winter Park, as I say, is I didn't know I was going to be as passionate about sustainability until I was surrounded by nature."
Lavender Elephant may soon begin developing its own line of clothing using hemp as the primary material, which uses considerably less water in its development and will decompose in a landfill unlike other materials.
Adding to Arabie's sustainability commitment is her helping to run camps when she isn't working at her store.
This year she will hold the third Cowgirl Camp, a retreat with young women where Arabie and other councilors teach how to think sustainable and out of the box, sew, work with horses and how to be more confident.
Arabie said that the message she tries to deliver through her business and camps is that nobody is perfect.
"We're all doing our best, and doing what we want because life is short," she said. "The two people that have been around me for the growth have died. They're gone. Willy Soles and John Catt. They didn't ask me all the serious questions, but you want to be around cheerleaders."